What is an impersonation attack?
Impersonation attacks are a type of spear phishing attack. These attacks come in emails pretending to be from a trusted individual or company, with the aim of stealing sensitive information. Individuals are often caught out by these emails, as naturally we tend to act quickly for emails from known parties than unknown parties.
If we receive an email from an unknown person, we are more likely to stop and analyse it, than if we got an email from our supervisor/manager. Cybercriminals have caught onto this, which is why impersonation attacks are so effective.
Techniques to look out for
Look out for demanding language used
Impersonation attacks use phrases that cause a sense of urgency from the receiver to act quickly.
Common phrases include:
- Short deadline to transfer money or confidential information
- Unusual purchase requests (such as gift cards)
- Employees requesting sudden changes to direct deposit information
Email addresses and sender name deviations
Cybercriminals attempt to trick receivers of their emails by using slight changes in spelling in the email address and senders name. Commonly, they change ‘ei’ with ‘ie’. Another letter they tend to replace is ‘rn’ with ‘m’ as they look similar.
Look out for business emails sent from personal accounts as well. Email addresses from Gmail or yahoo tend to be suspicious. Always double check with the real sender through another channel or send a new email to who you think the sender is (don’t reply to the potential cybercriminal), to confirm if the email is legitimate.
Learn common impersonation phrases
Not all impersonation emails are directly asking for money to be transferred. Cybercriminals sometimes send a simple message to test the victim and see if they respond. The following are common examples;
- Are you free now?
- Are you at your desk?
- I need you to do something for me right now
- Can you drop your phone number?
- Can you share your personal email?
Cybercriminals send these emails impersonating CEO’s or someone of a high managerial role in your workplace. Creating a sense of urgency as the request is of short notice and from a person who with authority in your workplace. This tricks many individuals as when this request and a person of authority’s name are next to each other, it’s easy to panic and be tricked into completing the task and handing over information.
Knowing these common techniques will assist you identifying impersonation attacks easier and reduce the risk of being a victim to one. When you come across a suspicious email from a trusted individual or company, remember to look out for these three impersonation techniques;
- Look out for demanding language used
- Check email addresses and sender name deviations
- Learn common impersonation phrases